CONFESSIONS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND by Michelle Cuevas
Jacques has just discovered that he’s imaginary — which certainly explains why everyone always ignores him and talks to his “sister” Fleur instead but doesn’t really tell him much about where he fits into the world. When Fleur’s worried parents take her to a psychiatrist to talk about her attachment to her imaginary friend, Jacques meets a whole group of oddball Invisibles in the waiting room, including Stinky Sock, who invites Jacques to the next meeting of Imaginaries Anonymous. As Jacques is reassigned to child after child, reforming his identity to fit their imaginary friend needs, he ponders the nature of reality and existence.
So clearly this is a niche book that gets a little heavy-handed with the whimsy sometimes, but it’s a sweet, odd story that makes a great family readaloud and a springboard to conversations about friendship, belonging, and (why not?) the meaning of life. It’s particularly easy to identify with Jacques’s feelings of invisibility early on: No one ever picks him for kickball, bus drivers close the doors in his face, people never talk to him directly. Figuring out that he’s an imaginary friend — and therefore literally invisible to people who aren’t his imagine-ers — may throw Jacques into an existential crisis, but it’s also kind of a relief. You might think of this as Toy Story for imaginary friends — just as that popular Pixar flick introduced the idea that toys have their own inner lives and experiences that their children know nothing about, this book suggests we only know the tiniest bit about our imaginary friends.
There are plenty of funny parts clearly written for parent readers — when Jacques is on the phone with the hilariously bureaucratic imaginary friend placement agency, his phone tree options include “Press 1 if you have been imagined as a trademark character and are worried about legal action” and “Press 2 if you have been imagined as food and are about to be eaten.” If you have kids who just can’t handle lots of whimsy, this whimsy-rich book is not going to be a good pick, but for kids who love a gentle fantasy with a philosophical twist and who can handle a tender, bittersweet ending, this is a delightful winter readaloud.
Quotable: “To tell the truth, I was beginning to think you would be in awe of anyone if you saw the parts of them that no one else gets to see. If you could watch them making up little songs, and doing funny faces in the mirror; if you saw them high-fiving a leaf on a tree, or stopping to watch a green inchworm hanging midair from an invisible thread, or just being really different and lonely and crying sometimes at night. Seeing them, the real them, you couldn't help but think that anyone and everyone is amazing.”
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